San Francisco police are investigating an attack on an elderly Asian man collecting cans in the Bayview as a possible hate crime after a video of the incident went viral on social media and raised concerns at City Hall.
The Special Investigations Division has taken over the probe from Bayview Station investigators because of the anti-Asian speech heard in the widely viewed footage, the San Francisco Police Department said Tuesday.
“The inflammatory language used in the video could suggest a possible hate crime occurred and as such SFPD SID will be taking lead,” police said.
While police have not confirmed the date or location of the attack, the video appears to have been recorded near a public housing complex in the area of La Salle Avenue and Osceola Lane and posted to Instagram on Sunday.
The video appears to show an elderly man trying to get his cans back from an aggressive man as an onlooker recording the incident goads them on.
At one point, the aggressor can be seen whacking the elderly man with a tool that the victim may have been using to collect cans.
Later, the man recording the incident can be heard saying “I hate Asians n—” and mocking the victim when he appears to start crying.
please share this with your friends & family. this is so low, the older man was just trying to make ends meet for his family. he didn’t deserve this. this is ignorant, inhumane, & sickening. i’m praying for this man and his family. if you have any information, please reach out. pic.twitter.com/545xHFwPm4
— nikc (@nicholaaasli) February 24, 2020
For Chinese San Franciscans, the video is only the latest example in a string of high-profile crimes against their community since late 2018, when a man was accused of attempting to rape a 99-year-old woman in Chinatown.
The incidents have rekindled racial tensions in The City since the suspects in some of the more visible cases have been African American.
Mayor London Breed was just one of the city officials who condemned the video.
“The actions depicted in this video are shameful and are not reflective of the San Francisco we can, and should be,” Breed said in a statement. “We need work to bring our communities together, not sow hatred and division.”
Marlene Tran, a longtime community leader in Visitacion Valley, called the video “shocking.”
“He was so helpless, all those people standing there laughing at him,” Tran said. “It’s really heartbreaking to see that.”
While she hesitated to speak on behalf of all black people, Bayview community leader Gloria Berry said “the black community is very upset, very heartbroken” about the video.
Howard Smith, a Western Addition resident, attributed the crimes to “young, ignorant folks” who lack respect for elders. He said leaders of the various black and Chinese neighborhoods should gather to sort out their issues.
“We got to have a real come to Jesus meeting for the overall benefit of our city,” Smith said.
Police Commissioner John Hamasaki called it “incredibly disheartening to once again see this level of cowardice and hatred directed toward Asian American seniors in our city.”
“We need to come together as a community to not only denounce this type of violence but end it,” Hamasaki said.
Supervisor Gordon Mar drew a line between the video and his legislation to require police to publicly report demographic data on crime victims.
Mar proposed the legislation, which the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday, in response to growing fears that criminals were specifically targeting Chinese people in San Francisco.
“This new information will help our public safety agencies, policy makers and the general public better understand crime trends and how they impact different communities,” Mar said in a statement. “Better data means more effective crime prevention strategies to ensure that all communities feel safe and are safe.”
Mar told the San Francisco Examiner that does not necessarily mean increasing police presence in impacted communities, although the data could be used to reassess where police resources are being deployed.
“I think it will just help us have a more complete picture about what’s happening,” Mar said.
The video has prompted calls for gatherings at the site of the incident.
Supervisor Shamann Walton plans to hold a meeting there Thursday at 2 p.m., while a group called Hip Hop for Change is holding a rally Sunday starting at 3 p.m.
Authorities are seeking information on the victim and suspects in the incident.
Tipsters are encouraged to contact SFPD or the District Attorney’s Office.
This story has been updated.